Guidance - Translocation of beavers in Scotland
What is translocation?
Translocation involves people moving living organisms from one area to another. For beavers it would usually involve trapping animals and releasing them into another area. Given their status as European Protected Species any translocation of beavers in Scotland would require a licence from NatureScot.
When might there be an opportunity for the translocation of beavers?
Opportunities to translocate beavers might arise in the following situations;
- Management translocation: Where the presence of beavers is causing adverse impacts to other interests (e.g. human-wildlife conflict) and there is a need to intervene.
- Conservation translocation: Where a proposal has come forward to relocate beavers to support a conservation project (e.g. a reintroduction).
- Welfare translocation: Where sick, injured or orphaned beavers are rescued and rehabilitated, but have to be released away from where they were found.
What are the benefits and risks of translocation?
Translocation has the potential to be used to help alleviate impacts that beavers may be causing to particular interests, to support conservation projects or to do both. Whilst knowledge and experience of translocation methods is improving, the process is not without risks, including to the welfare of the animals themselves. The process requires expert input, specialist equipment and facilities as well as significant time and effort.
Given the above, any proposal for translocation needs careful consideration.
When might translocation be appropriate?
Translocation will only be appropriate when each of the following have been met;
- When there is an identified need
- When there is a suitable receptor site
- When there are sufficient resources and expertise available to carry it out - When all appropriate permissions are in place
Translocations will only be acceptable if there is a strong case that the identified need would be satisfied by the use of translocation over alternative management options. We envisage that this is likely to be specific to a limited number of scenarios (see Annex 1 for full consideration).
For management translocations this would mean that the removal of an animal(s) would resolve the problems that are being experienced, so in other words would have to follow the criteria given in our published Managing the impacts of beavers in Scotland: Guidance for land, property or infrastructure managers.
Conservation translocations, such as reintroduction or reinforcement projects, would only be acceptable if they were part of a recognised and approved (see permissions below) proposal. In all cases this would mean that we would expect the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations to be adhered to.
A sick, injured or orphaned beaver may be rescued and rehabilitated, and would normally be released at its site of capture. If that is not possible for some reason, a welfare translocation may be considered to area suitable receptor site.
Suitable receptor site
Translocation will only be acceptable if an appropriate receptor site has been identified. Given the Minister’s statement (see Annex 1) that the Scottish beaver populations should naturally expand in range from the two original populations, this means that in Scotland suitable receptor sites would have to be within the current range of beavers at that time. This is likely to mean that translocation in Scotland would only be permitted within gaps in this range or to reinforce the existing Knapdale population. Conservation translocation to areas outside of Scotland would only be acceptable as part of an approved project as described above.
Any receptor site would have to have the appropriate habitat and conditions to be able to support beavers and appropriate landowner permission and engagement with the relevant stakeholders.
Resources and Expertise
Translocation can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. It also has to be carried out professionally both to minimise welfare impacts and other risks, and to maximise the chances of success. Translocation will therefore only be acceptable if we can be assured that sufficient resources and expertise are available to successfully undertake it.
Translocation of beavers can only be carried out under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage. In order to be able to licence any translocation, as well as satisfying all of the above criteria, applicants would have to ensure that all other permissions were in place - this would include permission from landowners at both donor and receptor sites and, if translocating animals outside of Scotland, the relevant licences to do so. The broad principles relating to landowner permission and engagement with other people potentially affected are set out in The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
The Translocation of Beavers in Scotland: Supplementary Information
1. Policy context
The Scottish Government decision on beaver reintroduction of 24 November 2016, includes the following statements:
- Beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain.
- Beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally.
- Beavers should be actively managed to minimise adverse impacts on farmers and other land owners.
- It will remain an offence for beavers to be released without a licence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
Further details were provided in the Scottish Government’s ‘Policy Statement’ as part of the 2017 Beavers in Scotland Strategic Environmental Assessment, which states:
“Licensing decisions are, in the first instance, a matter for SNH. However SNH will consult Scottish Ministers on novel or contentious licensing decisions. The Scottish Government anticipates being able to support licensed release of beavers where this is connected with the management of the populations on Tayside and Knapdale. In particular it is recognised that the Knapdale population is likely to need reinforcement if it is to survive.”
1.2 Wider context
In England there is a managed trial of wild-living beavers on the River Otter in Devon
(The River Otter Beaver Trial), the results of which will be reported to DEFRA in March 2020. A number of other projects involving enclosed groups of animals are also taking place or being developed. To date many of the animals used in the English projects have originated from Bavaria, or have been captive-bred. It is anticipated that these new and ongoing projects will require more animals in the short to medium term.
2. What is translocation?
Translocation is defined as the human-mediated movement of living organisms from one area, with release in another (IUCN 2013, NSRF 2014). It is an overarching term. Translocations may be accidental (e.g. stowaways) or deliberate. Deliberate translocations can be motivated by issues such as reducing population size, welfare, commercial or recreational interests, or for conservation.
Animal welfare is a significant element that needs to be addressed in any type of animal translocation, or other management activity. NatureScot has published a ‘position on wildlife welfare’.
Of particular relevance to beaver management in Scotland are the following types of translocation. Importantly, there may be situations where different types of translocation overlap e.g. where there is an opportunity to use animals translocated for a conservation translocation to also address a management issue.
2.1 Management translocation
This applies to where the primary objective is the non-lethal management of
‘problem’ animals. This tends to be used where there is some form of human-wildlife conflict (such as damage to property or where animals have become trapped in an inappropriate location). It involves the capture and translocation of ‘problem’ individual or family group of animals away from the focal point of conflict.
2.2 Welfare translocation
This applies to where the primary objective relates to welfare of an animal. This involves the capture and translocation of individual animals for welfare purposes, and may involve a period of captivity for rehabilitation. This would apply when the location of the release is different to the location of where the animal was captured (normally the aim should be to release the animal where it was found but this is not always appropriate).
2.3 Conservation translocation
This applies to where the primary objective is a conservation benefit (e.g. reintroduction, reinforcement of a population, etc.). This will usually involve improving the conservation status of the species locally or globally, and/or restoring natural ecosystem functions or processes. This topic is fully covered in the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations and the associated Guidelines produced by the National Species Reintroduction Forum in 2014 and based on the 2013 IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions and other Conservation Translocations.
3. Translocation in Scotland
In Scotland any translocation would need to be licensed by NatureScot (including when Scottish animals are used, but where the receptor site is outwith Scotland) and take account of current Scottish Government policy (see Section 1). The May 2017 Policy Statement, from the Beavers in Scotland Strategic Environmental Assessment, states:
“The Scottish Government takes the view it would not be prudent or sensible to support releases of beavers in new catchments until we can be confident that we have the skills, knowledge and framework in place to ensure that beavers can be managed so that we benefit from their positive impacts while minimising negative impacts on economically important land use.”
Therefore there is currently a presumption against any translocation being supported or permitted to a receptor site situated beyond their current range (i.e.one that would represent further ‘reintroduction’ beyond their current range). In this context the range of beavers is defined as covering the two populations in Knapdale and Tayside, including contiguous areas into which the population has naturally expanded.
In some circumstances there may be situations where translocations within the two beaver areas of Knapdale and Tayside, and to receptor sites outwith Scotland, may be required. However, we envisage that this is likely to be specific to a limited number of scenarios for the reasons described below (see section 31 – 3.2).
3.1 Potential translocation scenarios in Scotland
Management translocations of beavers - There are a range of potential management techniques that are used for managing beavers and beaver impacts. In some situations this might include the removal of animals from a specific area where there is a human-wildlife conflict issue, either through lethal control or through a management translocation. Management translocation may be appropriate, for example, where the presence of ‘barriers’ in the landscape prevents individual animals from moving away from areas where there may be potential conflict, to more appropriate and suitable habitat. This might typically involve moving animals to a nearby location e.g. between specific locations within Tayside.
Management translocations of beavers involving a conservation translocation - A conservation translocation of beavers would occur where there is a conservation benefit which might include enabling a founder population to be established or an existing population to be reinforced. As highlighted in section 3 above, there is currently a presumption against any conservation translocation being supported or permitted to a Scottish receptor site situated beyond their current range (i.e. a ‘reintroduction’). However, conservation translocation of beavers may be possible in some instances, and could concurrently contribute to a management translocation - such situations may have a long-term benefit for a conservation project, although possibly shorter-term management benefit at the original donor/capture site e.g. translocation of animals causing human-wildlife conflict on Tayside to Knapdale to reinforce that population, or to locations outwith Scotland where there are approved enclosed or wild-living populations.
Welfare translocation of beavers – This applies where an individual animal is found sick/injured/orphaned by a member of the public, rehabilitated in an appropriate facility, and there is a need to release it back into the wild at a site away from where it was captured (the expectation is that the EPS legislation would require release back into the wild in most cases, and a licence would be required for the release). A suitable release site would need to be identified – ideally this would be at or close to the point it was originally found (in which case it would not be considered a translocation) or, if that is not possible for some reason, an appropriate, unoccupied area.
3.2 Pros and cons of management translocation
The use of management translocation would appear at face-value to negate the need for lethal control as a tool to resolve human-wildlife conflicts. However, there are a number of significant variables with regard to translocating beavers that need to be compared to other management methods, including lethal control. These are described in turn below:
Potential benefits and opportunities
- Developed best practice - There is extensive experience of beaver translocation techniques across Europe, and improving knowledge of best practice in Britain.
- Reducing risks associated with conservation translocations - Most conservation translocations in GB, including those to enclosed semi-wild sites (primarily England), have tended to rely on animals sourced from Bavaria or captive-bred stock. Animals sourced from the former involve increased costs, stress to animals partly as a result of quarantine requirements, increased risks associated with the transmission of pathogens (including those related to public health) etc. The potential use of donor stock wild-bred within GB (e.g. from Tayside sites where there may be human-wildlife conflicts) would help to reduce such risks.
- Higher availability of suitable release sites in the shorter term - Any captured animal would need to be released at a suitable site that takes into account its biological and welfare needs, and also where approval has been given by the land owner/manager, and other relevant stakeholders. In the short to medium term there is greater potential to use ‘problem’ animals from sites where there is human-wildlife conflict and make them available to beaver projects outwith Scotland, or for appropriate sites within the current beaver range.
Potential risks and limitations
- Limited availability of suitable release sites in the longer term - Any captured animal would need to be released at a suitable site that takes into account its biological and welfare needs, and also where approval has been given by the land owner/manager, and other relevant stakeholders. In the longer term this will become an increasingly significant issue within any given catchment – the availability of suitable release sites will decrease over time as the beaver population expands naturally or through previous translocations.
- Recolonisation of the capture site - The removal of animals from a specific site will result in a territory becoming vacant (the same applies when using lethal control). Assuming that that there are likely to be other beaver family groups or singletons within the vicinity of the site, there is a significant risk that within a relatively short period the territory will be recolonized by animals from neighbouring areas.
- Potential adverse impact on animal welfare – The stress associated with translocation has been associated with pre or post-release mortality for a number of different species. Some beaver mortality has been recorded in association with a number of translocations in Britain, although best practice continues to be developed and experience gained. A direct comparison with the welfare implications of other management methods, such as lethal control, will become possible once further experience and evidence has been generated.
- Practicalities including cost and effort - Management translocation can also involve considerable staff time, particularly when individual animals are ‘trap-shy’ and significantly harder to catch. This has to be weighed against the costs associated with other management techniques that may be applied, but experience from Scotland to date has found that translocation costs can be high.
On balance, taking account of the aforementioned considerations, management translocation, in Scotland is likely to only be a realistic management option in some limited and specific situations, in the short to medium term when there are likely to be potentially more receptor sites, and requests for the supply of animals for other projects. However, in the longer term, as potential receptor sites become limited, it will be an increasingly less viable option, meaning more reliance on other management options will be necessary.
Licensing requirements for translocations in Scotland
Since Beavers are a European Protected Species (EPS), licensing requirements need to be addressed – see ‘Managing the Impacts of Beavers in Scotland’ for further guidance.
Either species protection and/or non-native species licences from NatureScot will be required for translocations of wild-living animals (and sometimes captive/captive-bred animals), including those where Scotland is the donor country for translocations outwith the country.
The legislation allows for the capture and possession of disabled beavers for tending and release back into the wild when fit. No protected species licence is required in these circumstances if the action is unlikely to cause unnecessary suffering, there is no satisfactory alternative available and there will not be any detrimental impact to the conservation status of beaver in Scotland. However, any release of beaver back into the wild requires a non-native species licence since beaver is a ‘former native species’ as defined under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
4.1 The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations
There is a detailed section on relevant legislation in the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations, much of which will also be applicable to management and welfare translocations.
The Code provides the detail but some of the broad, key considerations can be summarised:
- Undertake an initial appraisal, to include a preliminary assessment of legal issues, benefits, and biological and socio-economic risks
- Set goals
- Obtain necessary permissions and licences
- Maximise chances of success, and minimise chances of failure, by taking account of biological considerations, public and animal health factors, animal welfare, release site suitability etc.
- Consult with relevant land users and other stakeholders
- Monitor the translocation at an appropriate level and respond to issues that arise
- Keep relevant people informed, and share information to guide future work
The relevant practitioner leading on the translocation would be responsible for ensuring the above are adequately addressed. Permission must be agreed with the landowner responsible for the proposed release for any translocation, and other key local stakeholders engaged and consulted.
IUCN (2013) Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland.
NSRF (2014) The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations. Scottish Natural Heritage, Inverness.
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